Introduction & Background
The CASPer® (Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) test is a 90-minute online situational judgment test (SJT) created by McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. This computer-based test is taken in a non-proctored environment, raising criticism about its validity.
However, the evaluation of non-cognitive skills (personal and professional qualities) is a crucial component of any medical school admissions process and has traditionally been assessed through the submission of personal essays, autobiographical submissions, and interviews. The test was originally established as a screening tool to assess prospective medical school candidates’ non-cognitive skills prior to the interview. Applicants are not tested on any explicit subject knowledge and spelling/grammar mistakes are not factored into their results.
CASPer® has been used continuously in the admissions process at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University since 2010 and currently accounts for 32% of an applicant’s pre-interview score. It is now a required test at over 25 medical schools, pharmacy schools, vet schools, nursing schools, and residency programs in the United States and Canada.
Structure & Format
The CASPer® test consists of 12 sections (8 videos, 4 non-video) lasting a total of 90 minutes. Each section contains either a short 1-2 minute video (video-based) or a short prompt (word-based), followed by three open-ended probing questions. The examinee is allowed a total of five minutes to answer all three questions for each section. Given the short 5 minute time constraint for each section, spelling mistakes and grammar are not explicitly factored into an applicant’s score. There is an optional 15-minute break halfway.
How to Prepare
As an applicant you won’t receive your actual CASPer® test score because unlike other standardized tests with established pass/fail cutoffs, CASPer® is not a pass/fail test but rather a standardized tool for ranking a large number of applicants based on their personal characteristics. The CASPer® test is administered without providing applicants with explicit learning objectives to prepare for the test in the hopes that examinees will take the test “blindly” without any prior preparation.
However, the current research shows that applicants benefit from advance preparation for the test. Broadly speaking, in terms of coaching and practice effects on SJTs like CASPer®, the current literature suggests that there exists a benefit from test preparation. One study by Cullen, Sackett, and Lievens (2006) examined the coachability of SJTs for consideration as selection instruments in high-stakes testing. Cullen et al. concluded that performance on some SJTs could be enhanced by coaching. In terms of practice effects, Cullen et al. indicated that the retest effects of SJTs are not larger than effects for traditional tests such as cognitive ability tests.
To prepare for the test, we recommend applicants complete the following tasks prior to taking their CASPer® test:
- Ensure they can type a minimum of 40 words per minute, free of major errors and distractions.
- Self-reflect on their own personal experiences around conflict, personal weaknesses, and personal failures, and be comfortable sharing lessons learned from these experiences concisely.
- Complete at least one full-length timed practice CASPer® test to ensure they are familiar with the time constraints and expectations of the test.
CASPer® is challenging simply because applicants are directly ranked against one another. However, the test offers individuals with traditionally less stellar MCATs and GPAs the opportunity to excel by highlighting their experiences and personal qualities. The existence of 12 stations, each with a different assessor, allows applicants the ability to demonstrate their characteristics and experiences to a wider variety of evaluators. CASPer® will continue to grow as a requirement for medical school admissions in the coming years. We therefore recommend that students applying to medical school become familiar with and gain a solid appreciation of this situational judgment test.
Cullen, M.J., Sackett, P.R., & Lievens, F. (2006). Threats to the operational use of situational judgment tests in the college admission process. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 14, 142-55.
Ebo K. A Osam (2014) The Adaptation of a Situational Judgment Test to Measure Leadership Knowledge in the Workplace, Western Kentucky University